GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Freshman Drew Stafford’s goal in overtime enabled North Dakota to escape upset-minded Michigan Tech and punch its ticket for next weekend’s WCHA Final Five.
Trailing 3-1 in the third period, UND got goals from sophomore Zach Parise and freshman Chris Porter to send the game into overtime before claiming a 4-3 victory and winning the best-of-three playoff series.
The Sioux dominated the final period and overtime, outshooting MTU 27-8. However, outstanding goaltending by Huskies junior Cam Ellsworth kept the frustrated Sioux off the board until 9:29 of overtime.
UND senior center David Lundbohm hit Stafford with an outlet pass that sent him flying down the left side and into the MTU zone. John Scott, the 6-7, 252-pound Huskies defenseman, attempted to pin Stafford along the boards.
But the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sioux forward battled through Scott’s check and walked in alone on Ellsworth. He got the goalie to commit and then slid the puck in on the wide side to give UND a 4-3 victory.
“You only get a couple of those chances a game,” Stafford said. “When you get an opportunity to go to the net like that, you definitely want to take advantage of it.
“I got a little space on the guy,” he said. “I’ve tried so many moves on that goalie that finally one of them went in.”
“I think everybody’s disappointed,” said MTU coach Jamie Russell. “But as a whole, our team laid it on the line. They did everything we asked. They played hard. They battled. They competed.”
For two periods, MTU had the WCHA regular-season champion and top-ranked Sioux on the ropes. In the opening period, the Huskies struck first with a power-play goal by junior forward Colin Murphy at 11:21.
The Sioux needed just five seconds to convert on their only power play of the game. At 14:22, Sioux forward Brandon Bochenski blasted a shot past Ellsworth from high in the slot.
With a minute left in the first period, MTU converted on its second power play. Senior center Jon Pittis threw the puck on goal from near the blue line. Forward Brandon Schwartz, alone at the side of the net, knocked it past Sioux junior goalie Jake Brandt to put the Huskies up 2-1.
MTU scored the only goal of the second period at 13:34. Senior wing Brett Engelhardt capitalized on a 2-on-1 rush by tipping Schwartz’s centering pass past Brandt.
“I don’t know if we panicked or anything, said UND coach Dean Blais. “But the Huskies were playing well. They played hard. When a team is facing elimination, they’re going to come out strong. We knew that. We just didn’t respond very well.”
In the third, period the Sioux came out energized. Parise’s goal at the 5:39 mark pulled UND within one and ignited the home crowd of 10,215. A shot by Bochenski went wide, but the rebound off the end boards came to Parise, who swatted in the puck while on his knees.
Porter got the tying goal at 8:53 when his shot from the bottom of the right circle deflected off Ellsworth’s pad and went in. With the game tied 3-3, the Sioux buzzing and the crowd going wild, Russell called a timeout at 9:33 to settle his team. It almost worked.
Scott had a chance to be the hero with six minutes to play, but his shot from the slot hit the crossbar. The Sioux applied relentless pressure, but Ellsworth turned back numerous scoring chances to send the game into overtime.
Despite UND’s dominating performance in the third period, Blais was concerned that the his players might press too hard and give the Huskies a chance to win.
“We thought, ‘Hey, let’s not blow it.’ We’ve got the momentum, we’ve got the fans our side, so you never know what can happen,” he said. “But let’s not go out there and force things or try to make something out of nothing.”
Ellsworth’s made save after save in overtime until Stafford’s goal at the 9:29 mark ended it.
“I was very, very proud of the team,” Russell said. “I thought they showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. They played a heck of a game tonight.”